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The Manhattan is a Cocktail consisting of Rye Whiskey, Vermouth, and Bitters.


The Manhattan Myth

According to David Herpin

There is a widely reported false history behind this drink and it might have been purported by the club with the same name. Many believe this drink was created in the 1870's by a Doctor who hosted a banquet at the Manhattan Club for Churchhill's mother and other famous figures. However, there is absolutely no literature in association of this party and the drink, furthermore, there is no evidence this party ever took place. Here is an early printing of this drink:

Catalogue of the Brooklyn Library: Authors, titles, subjects, and ...: Volume 1 - Page 1124 by Brooklyn Library, Stephen Buttrick Noyes in 1877

"A half century ago it was a famous watering place and the proprietor of one of its ancient hotels will today produce long clippings to show that the immortal Manhattan cocktail was invented in his hostelry by a distraught southerner"

Perhaps, this southerner did not create the cocktail at Manhattan Club, so the club took it upon itself to claim this drink their owns. This is the oldest story related to this drink to date, so it is most likely the most accurate. There are very few conflicts as to what this drink contains. Here is an early printing:

Jennie June's American cookery book, containing upwards of twelve ... - Page 400 by Jane Cunningham Croly in 1878

""Manhattan Cocktail, No. 1. " No. 2"

It appears the No.2 Version was phased out by the 20th century and may have been forgotten long before that. This drink was certainly created in manhattan, aside from this it is difficult to determine and exact location. This drink contents seem to have held steady through the years, which is uncommon of cocktails.

Rye whiskey would have certainly been the whiskey of choice during this time, however, this drink is often made with all sorts of different whisk(e)ys. Most commonly this drink is made with bourbon today, although, all early literature would indicate it was originally rye.

Many believe that this drink was originally served in a cocktail glass with a maraschino cherry, however, cherries were very uncommon in bars at this time and the lemon twist was a much more popular garnish, as was the orange peel. Although it is important to note that very little early literature indicates any type of garnish.

This drink dates between 1865 - 1875 and contained at least as of then:

Stir these ingredients:

Whiskey (Rye)

Italian Vermouth (Sweet Vermouth)

Peychaud's Bitters

Simple Syrup (Modern)

Lemon Twist or Maraschino Cherry (Modern)

Strain into an ice filled old fashioned glass or chilled cocktail glass.

A popular myth asserts that the Manhattan originated at the Manhattan Club in New York City in November 1874, where it was invented at a banquet hosted by Jennie Jerome (Lady Randolph Churchill, Winston's mother) in honour of presidential candidate Samuel J. Tilden.

From The Cocktailian Gazette

"The Manhattan was traditionally a rye drink, it was invented in NYC in the 1880's and we were a rye town. Jenny Jerome an American who married Lord Randolph Churchill commissioned the drink for a banquet in New York City at the Manhattan Club. Lady Churchill, Winston’s mother, had returned to New York to host a party for her late father’s best friend the newly elected governor of New York State, Samuel J. Tilden. Tilden, a Civil War general, Later ran for President and like Al Gore captured the popular vote but lost in the Electoral College."

David Wondrich says

"the story of the Manhattan being invented for a dinner at the Manhattan Club hosted by Jennie Jerome to celebrate Samuel Tilden's election etc. etc. About 5 minutes of half-assed googling will uncover the fact that Tilden was elected in November, 1874, when La Jerome was in England, giving birth to Winston Churchill. (In fact, the banquet was held on the day Winston was christened; Jenny Jerome's only connection with the Manhattan club was the fact that the club later moved into a mansion which had once belonged to her father)."

"Contemporary newspaper accounts of the two Manhattan Club banquets held for Tilden's election make no mention of La Jerome, nor indeed of any woman present--these were striclty stag affairs. And the main banquet was held on the same day Winston Churchill was christened, at Blenheim. The only connection between her and the Manhattan Club was that, some years later, the Club was ensconced in a house her father owned."

Historical References

"THE DEMOCRAT", NEW YORK, 5 September 1882

"Talking about compounders of drinks reminds me of the fact that never before has the taste for "mixed drinks" been so great as at present and new ideas, and new combinations are constantly being brought forward. It is but a short time ago that a mixture of whiskey, vermouth and bitters came into vogue. It went under various names-- Manhattan cocktail, Turf Club cocktail, and Jockey Club cocktail. Bartenders at first were sorely puzzled what was wanted when it was demanded. But now they are fully cogtnizant of its various aliases and no difficulty is encountered."

"Valentine's Manual," by William F. Mulhall, 1923

"The Manhattan cocktail was invented by a man named Black who kept a place ten doors below Houston Street on Broadway in the [eighteen] sixties--probably the most famous drink in the world in its time."

"THE OLD WALDORF-ASTORIA BAR BOOK", By Albert Stevens Crockett (1935)

MANHATTAN...Origin somewhat obscure. Probably first called after a well known club of that name, and not after an island famed for many years as the abode and domain of a certain "Tiger."

"Patrick Murphy's The Barman's Corner," 15 March 1945

From out of Manhattan last week came data from Ed Gibbs, one of the trade's 'way-back-when columnist and now a publisher and newsletter writer, to the effect that the Manhattan Cocktail has a definite date of origin. If so, this will be one of the very few cocktails which can be nailed down as to time and place of birth. The Gibbs' version, which in turn is from sources he labels as his "research department," declares that on a memorable December 29, 1874, evening at the Manhattan Club, "in the old A. T. Stewart Mansion--now the Empire State Blg.," a testimonial dinner was held in honor of Samuel J.Tilden. This is the Tilden, history-wise readers will recall, who received a majority vote of the U. S. A. when Presidential candidate, but was defeated by the electoral college set-up. Official notes on the banquet alluded to declare that the dinner was preceded by a drink made of "American Whiskey, Italian Vermouth and Angostura Bitters." It proved so popular that club members asked for it again and again, hence became known as the Manhattan Cocktail.

This reads well but we must remain a bit dubious. For instance, it is quite probable that the drink was served before that December 29th evening in the Manhattan clubrooms--it may have been the house drink of several years. And old bar guides, one that we have being originally printed in 1860, list many a Manhattan Cocktail, so the name antedates the event Mr. Gibbs speaks of.

Many early Manhattans called for a dash of this or that--absinthe, or orange bitters or even curacao. Harry Johnson stipulated a twist of lemon peel as the garnish, back in the 1870's, in contrast to today's maraschino cherry garnish. The drink was evidently a vermouth and whiskey combination, but had local variations.

Historical Recipes

Harry Johnson, 1884

Manhattan Cocktail, No. 1.
  • (A small wine-glass.)
  • 1 pony French vermouth.
  • 1/2 pony whisky.
  • 3 or 4 dashes Angostura bitters.
  • 3 dashes gum syrup.
Manhattan Cocktail, No. 2.
  • 2 dashes Curacoa.
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters.
  • 1/2 wine-glass whisky.
  • 1/2 wine-glass Italian vermouth.
  • Fine ice ; stir well and strain into a cocktail glass.

Jerry Thomas, 1887

(Use a small bar glass.}

Take 2 dashes of Curacao or Maraschino

  • 1 pony of rye whiskey
  • 1 wine-glass of vermouth
  • 3 dashes of Boker's bitters
  • 2 small lumps of ice

Shake up well, and strain into a claret glass. Put a quarter slice of lemon in the glass and serve. If the customer prefers is very sweet use also two dashes of gum syrup.

"Wehmann's Bartenders Guide" by Henry J.Wehmann (1891)

  • (Use large bar glass)
  • Fill the glass up with ice
  • 2 or 3 dashes of gum Syrup
  • 1 or 2 dashes of Bitters
  • 1 dash of Curacoa (or Absinthe if required)
  • 1/2 wine Glass of Whiskey
  • 1/2 wine glass of vermouth

Stir up well, strain into a fancy cocktail glass, squeeze a piece of lemon peel on the top and serve.

"The Flowing Bowl: What and When to Drink" by William Schmidt (1892)

Half a tumblerful of cracked ice,

  • 2 dashes of gum,
  • 2 dashes of bitters,
  • 1 dash of absinthe,
  • 2/3 drink of whiskey,
  • 1/3 drink of vino vermouth.
  • (A little maraschino may be added.)

Stir this well, strain, and serve.

"THE MIXICOLOGIST", by By C. F. Lawlor (1895)

  • Take 1 dash Schroeder's bitters.
  • 1 half barspoonful syrup.
  • 1 half jigger vermouth.
  • 1 half jigger whiskey.
  • 2 dashed of maraschino.

Stir well in glass previously filled with fine ice; strain in coll cocktail glass.

"Drinks As They Are Mixed" by Paul E. Lowe (1904)

Use mixing glass. Ice, fine, fill glass.

  • Syrup, 1/2 barspoonful.
  • Angostura bitters, 1 dash.
  • Vermouth, 1/2 jigger.
  • Whiskey, 1/2 jigger.
  • Lemon peel, 1 piece twisted.

Stir and strain into cool cocktail glass.

"The Daily Republican", 3rd March 1908

"A Manhattan cocktail is simply two-thirds Italian Vermouth, one-third whisky, with three dashes of Angostura bitters, and syrup to suit the taste. A small quantity or sherry wine is sometimes added to improve the flavor."

"Jack's Manual" by Jack Grohusko (1908)

  • 1 dash Boker's bitters
  • 50% Vermouth (Ballor)
  • 50% rye whiskey

1/2 glass cracked ice. Stir, strain and serve

Video Demonstrations on the Web

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